The Bandelier National Monument is a pleasant place to spend some time during the summer season. The elevation of this vast wilderness area is high enough up in the mountains to provide some relief from the heat and the smell of the thick pine forest is as refreshing as can be. The most visited area in Bandelier is Frijoles Canyon, because the visitor center, ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings and Tyuonyi Pueblo can all be found here. There are picnic areas throughout Frijoles Canyon, so this part of the Bandelier National Monument definitely is a perfect choice for a day trip destination!
For those who are into a world of adventure, almost 90% of Bandelier National Monument is a deep forested wilderness. There are many back country hiking and biking trails and primitive camping is an option. Bandelier also offers a group campsite and two top notch campgrounds that have facilities. There is a hiking trail starting at the campgrounds that goes to Frijoles Canyon, so a camper does not have to look far for something interesting to do.
The Bandelier Visitor Center is where all ventures begin, because this is where the Bandelier Guide Book can be found. This thrifty priced pamphlet provides a wealth of information about the ancient pueblos and the culture that once called this place home. The pamphlet details the hiking trails and all of the features along the way, so many questions that come to mind will be answered by referring to the Bandelier Guide Book.
The hiking trails are well marked in Bandelier and the foot path through the ancient pueblo and cliff dwellings is well maintained. There are several staircases to negotiate and most have hand rails. The Alcove House requires climbing a very tall ladder, which can be an intimidating hurdle to negotiate. Those who have mobility challenges may have to skip the ladder climb, but at least the paths are smooth.
The Main Loop Trail is a little more than a mile long and this path goes to the Cavetes and the Tyuonyi Great House Pueblo. Plenty of evidence of ancient agricultural practices can be seen along this trail. This is one of the strangest looking landscapes in the west and a long timeline of native heritage can be experienced along the way. Because there is so much for the senses to take in, it is best to plan on spending some extra time when strolling down the loop trail!
A visit to the neighboring Valles Caldera National Preserve should be a prerequisite for a Bandelier excursion, because this ancient super volcano is the reason why the cavetes cliff dwellings exist. When the ancient super volcano exploded, a massive amount of volcanic ash was deposited on one side of Frijoles Canyon. The ash hardened to become volcanic tuff, which eroded over eons of time and turned into tall cliffs filled with little caves.
The small caves in the tuff were natural shelters that the native people occupied long ago while hunting and gathering in this fertile region. Eventually the soft tuff cavetes were carved out to become some of the earliest homes of the Pueblo People. Through the course of time, the cavetes cliff dwelling structures became more complex with multi story buildings that had roofing rafters imbedded in the walls of the cliffs. Many of the original structures resembled multi story cliffside villas in modern times, so the old Pueboan architectural designs actually were quite advanced.
There was a period in history starting well over one thousand years ago when advanced agricultural practices appeared throughout the cultural centers in the four corners region. Many archaeologists and native wisdom keepers say that the pueblos in Bandelier are some of the very oldest and this place may be the origin of many Four Corners region pueblo designs that followed.
The Tyuonyi Great House Pueblo is a good example of the classic "D" shaped floor plan design that included a large plaza area. Not all of the rooms in a great house pueblo are domiciles. Most of the outer rooms were actually devoted to agricultural tasks and some were rooms for artisan craftsmen. The round kivas in Tyuonyi were ceremonial rooms where spiritual guidance and healing took place. The Tyuonyi Pueblo is a great representation of the accomplishments of the ancient Puebloan society and by following the path uphill to the cavetes, a great view of the entire Tyuonyi Pueblo can be experienced.
The Pueblo People are one of the oldest civilizations in the west and they are still an active society in modern times. The Pueblo People have provided a wealth of information about their culture and all they ask in return is to have great respect for the ancient places where their ancestral spirits rest. Upon abandonment, the ancient pueblos became spiritual places, so visitors of Bandelier are actually stepping on hallowed ground. For this reason, straying off the hiking paths and climbing on the structures is taboo by law, because this is a highly protected World Heritage Site.
Frijoles Canyon is mysterious, ominous and intriguingly beautiful all at the same time. This ancient native sacred place beckons to be experienced, especially if doing the complete New Mexico ancient pueblo tour is in the plans. A trip to Bandelier National Monument will provide many answers to questions of the ancient past and this is what makes the visit well worth doing. Bandelier also offers thousands of acres of unspoiled wilderness to explore, which all amounts to a good reason to just get up and go!
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